AN: This will be the last chapter. I'm sorry there's been such a long break. Thanks to everyone who has joined me on this journey. You're all lovely. :)
He was thirty-five and she was thirty-five. He'd been waiting for her return for hours. The day had started as normal as any other, with Astrid early to rise and feeding the children before Hiccup had even managed to put his leg on, let alone clothing. It was the sound of them – his family – that made his heart swell. Hiccup kept expecting the feeling to fade. He kept expecting to experience some sense of mediocrity as the drone of routine settled down upon them. But being a parent was anything but routine. Hel, being chief was not nearly as unexceptional as he had once imagined it would be.
There was always some problem, some new argument to settle, some new document to sign. That might have been what Hiccup liked best about being chief. Every birth, every death, every wedding crossed his desk. He knew more about the population of Berk than he did about what Astrid was thinking some days and he reveled in it. No one could have predicted that for him. No one could have told him how much he would love this common, everyday knowledge.
So, that morning had started much the same as any other morning. He could hear Astrid's soft, even tone cutting through an argument between the girls; he could hear Hic's voice rising, fighting to be heard above the din. The squealing and laughing of his daughters made him smile. What an ordinary sound for such an extraordinary life. When he came down the stairs, the girls quieted and Hiccup wondered when that had happened, when he had become the voice of authority in this house. Astrid grinned at him from the hearth and he smiled back. Then everyone was back to their loud routine, a girl on each arm and Hic trying to show him his notebook across the table. Hiccup made a quick suggestion and his stoic son snatched the book back and started scribbling away in silence.
"We should have named him Stoick," Astrid had whispered to him one night when Hic was small.
Hiccup had laughed. "Hiccup the Stoic. Never thought I'd hear that in my life."
And it was true. Their son was unflinchingly stoic in all things. He had a sharp, inventive mind and a dry, rare humour; pieces of Hiccup and Astrid coming together in unpredictable ways. The girls were another story altogether. Solveig lived up to her name, strong-minded as well as physically strong, she was the top of her class and much to Hiccup's chagrin, extremely handy with a battle-axe. A tiny, strawberry blonde Astrid with a sharp, clever tongue. Un, on the other hand, was one hundred percent Hiccup. She was clumsy and small, long auburn hair getting caught in nearly everything. Hiccup had found her taming a Whispering Death when she was three. She'd named him Bitey and he followed her everywhere, somewhat ridiculously. He was under the table then, nudging at Hiccup's ankle.
The house that Hiccup had grown up in was teeming with life in a way he'd never experienced himself. He found he didn't miss the quiet, he only missed the chance to be alone with Astrid. It was a little better now that the children were older, but it was still difficult. The last time had been nearly a month ago when he'd been working on something late at the forge – another task difficult to accomplish lately – and Astrid had come by unexpectedly and the interruption was certainly not unwanted.
In all honestly, he was hoping to leave the house a little late that morning, after the children had left for the academy, but Astrid had other plans. He watched her as she filled a basket with trinkets and food.
"Going somewhere?" he asked.
Astrid looked up at him and away again, back to the task at hand. "I'm going to make a few stops this morning."
Hiccup walked over and leaned against the counter, glancing into the basket and frowning. "Is that Buckthorn?"
"Gothi asked me to get some for her."
Hiccup frowned again. "You're going to see Gothi?"
Astrid turned then, a smile playing on her lips fondly. She kissed Hiccup on the cheek and pulled him into an easy embrace. "Don't sound so worried. I'm dropping off Buckthorn."
Hiccup's eyes followed her anyway, unable to quench the inexplicable feeling that she wasn't telling him everything. He followed her, absently tailing her movements as she lead Stormfly from her stable behind the house, murmuring and offering the dragon a leg of chicken. Astrid caught sight of Hiccup watching her and grinned at him.
"I'll see you for dinner?"
Hiccup forced a smile back and nodded. He watched her take off, his heart squeezing the way it always did when she flew without him. She wasn't the only one that had been affected by the war and Hiccup always felt better when she was in his line of sight. He watched until she and Stormfly became a speck in the pale grey sky and then he stared some more. She hadn't been feeling well lately. Nothing too concerning, or so she said. Then again, Astrid was never very good at admitting weakness and Hiccup worried for her more than he'd ever verbally admit.
Toothless approached, jamming his nose into Hiccup's hand and bumping into his leg hard enough to send him stumbling. Hiccup grinned at his best friend, his hand falling to his head.
"I don't know, bud," he mumbled, glancing back at the empty sky.
Hiccup didn't see Astrid again until mid-afternoon. It was a fleeting thing, a glance across the town square. Astrid had been coming down the path from Gothi's hut, her face pale and eyes haunted. She froze when she saw Hiccup and he started to cross the square, heart beating faster at the expression on her face. She shook her head once and climbed onto Stormfly's back, launching off into the air. He could have followed. It would have been easy on Toothless. He could have chased her down and dragged it out of her. It's what he would have done when they were younger. It's what he would have done before.
But things were different now. Astrid needed space at times and it was evident that this was one of those times. She would be back. She always came back. The knowledge didn't make Hiccup's day any smoother; it didn't stop him from thinking about her, from worrying.
The sun was setting when Hiccup came home, something was brewing in the house, but a quick glance at the stables told him Astrid hadn't yet returned. It was Hic at the hearth, big green eyes locking solemnly on Hiccup as he came through the door. Hiccup smiled as the girls launched themselves at him and he crossed over to the fire.
"Mom's not home?"
Hic shook his head and stirred whatever was in the pot. Hiccup took a long sniff and smiled, his stomach rumbling. "Need any help?"
"No. It's almost done. You're always conveniently walking through the door when all the work is done," Hic replied matter-of-factly, far too precocious for a thirteen year old.
"My apologies to the chef."
Hic looked rather smug, straightening his shoulders in an all too familiar way. "Apology accepted."
Dinner came and went, still with Astrid absent. Hiccup trusted her unequivocally. He knew she could handle herself. But he would never forget that she'd been taken before. That she'd been lost to him once. That she'd been hurt. He tried not to let his worry show as he tucked the girls into their bed and told them a story about Berk's best shield maiden. They'd heard it so many times before, but they still sighed happily when he ended it with: "And her name was Astrid."
"Best mommy in the archipelago," Un supplied.
"That's right," Hiccup smiled, kissing her forehead.
Hiccup passed by Hic's room, smiling affectionately at the leak of yellow light escaping from under the door. He peeked in to find Hic writing in his notebook.
"Don't stay up too late," Hiccup said.
Hic supplied him with a miniscule glare and continued writing. As Hiccup pulled the door shut, he spoke.
"She'll be back, right?" he asked, still writing.
Hiccup nodded with more certainty than he felt. "She'll be back."
The truth was more complicated than what he told his son. She would be back, certainly. It was Astrid, after all. Hiccup just wasn't sure when because she hadn't taken off like this in years. She used to do it all the time when Hic and Solveig were small, when life became overwhelming. Sometimes she'd be gone for days. Sometimes Hiccup would send search parties after her. She stopped when Un was born. It was as though the little monster had somehow corrected something in Astrid, somehow tethered her to their home in a way Hiccup, Hic, and Solveig couldn't. Un had made it all real for Astrid, Hiccup supposed. Maybe she simply wasn't afraid it would all disappear anymore.
But today was different. Something had upset her. Something had startled her into action. Something had driven her from him. Hiccup wrapped his fur cloak around his shoulders and stepped outside. The air was bitingly cold, stinging his cheeks and whipping at his hands. He turned his face up to the clear sky, the stars bright against a blank canvas of darkness. Rubbing his hands together, he whispered:
"Astrid, where are you?"
Hiccup climbed the footholds he'd built into the side of their house and rested himself on the roof, Toothless bounding up the worn perches that had been set in place for him. The dragon curled up beside him and tilted his head at Hiccup as if to express his solidarity. Hiccup grinned.
"Thanks, bud. I hope she gets back soon."
The last thing Hiccup remembered was staring at the bright white glow of the moon, full and omnipresent in the night sky. It comforted him to think that it would light Astrid's way home.
When he opened his eyes next, all he could see was Astrid. Crisp, blue eyes lighted by her flight, cheeks flushed and smile wide. She kissed his cold nose and nudged his shoulder as she settled next to him. Automatically, he opened the cloak and wrapped it around her, pulling her into his chest and hugging her to him. Her skin was cold and he shivered from the contact, breathing in the scent of the sea and the wind in her hair. Sleepily, Hiccup pressed his lips to her temples.
"Welcome home," he mumbled.
Astrid shifted, reaching around for something and dropping whatever it was heavily in his lap. She nuzzled her icy nose into his neck.
"I found a new island."
Hiccup frowned as he picked his notebook up from his lap. "You took the map?"
Astrid shrugged, watching him as he flipped the map open. She'd gone south, further south than he'd ever gone.
"You went south," he said absently, tracing the flight path from Berk to the new island that she'd draw onto the map.
Hiccup folded the map back up and closed his eyes, revelling in the loose circle of Astrid's arms around him, hands clasped at his waist. It was so normal, so ordinary, as if she hadn't just flown off for hours without so much as a word. Hiccup felt the stirrings of the anger he should feel, but it wasn't strong enough to take bloom. He was only glad that she was back and that she was safe again. They leaned into Toothless' side, Hiccup's thumb gently stroking across the wind burnt skin of Astrid's hand as he blinked at the stars and listened to the waves crashing against the cliffs of Berk. They didn't speak for a long time, long enough that Hiccup's joints started to ache from the cold, long enough that Astrid finally gave him her reason.
"I'm pregnant," she whispered, murmuring the words into his skin and breathing deeply.
Hiccup's lips parted, words lost to him. Because it wasn't possible anymore. After Un - after that difficult and beleaguered pregnancy – Gothi had informed them that this would be their last. That Astrid's body couldn't take another child, wouldn't take another child. It had remained true for almost seven years now.
"What?" he breathed.
"You heard me," Astrid said flatly.
"Well, Chief, when a man and a woman—"
Astrid sighed and pushed herself into his body, her forehead pressing into his jaw. "I don't know. I mean, I know, obviously. But—"
"Is it—Is it going to be okay?"
Astrid chuckled and sighed, her breath warm against his skin. She pressed her lips against the edge of his jaw, grinning. "When is it not with us?"
Hiccup twisted so he could look at her, really look at her. Astrid's eyes were dancing, bright and happy, her smile infectious. Hiccup grinned affectionately and brought her fingers to his lips.
"I love you."